Investigators seek answers in suspicious fire

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CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (WEAU) -- An investigation is underway on a suspicious fire in Chippewa Falls and police believe someone may have started the fire.

Fire crews found a large pile of scrap wooden pallets burning on private property on Business Highway 29 at Highway 53 Saturday night at around 11:30 p.m.

Chippewa Falls Fire crews said they were the first to report the incident to dispatch, following a separate fire at TTM Technologies.

Nearly one acre of wooden pallets at around 20 feet high was burned, Battalion Chief Lee Douglas said.

“We had an east wind blowing that night and the fire was spreading across the pile quickly,” said Douglas.

Crews battled with an “aggressive attack” to keep the fire from spreading and even used a city end loader to cut a path through the center of the pile where flames had not yet been reached.

“With the dry conditions that we've been experiencing and the dry grass and the proximity of it to a house which is back behind it and houses down further down on Business 29 or County Highway X, I made the decision at that point that we were going to aggressively fight the fire,” said Douglas.

Because there was only one fire hydrant near the scene, ten tender and tanker trucks had to be called in to haul thousands of gallons of water. Douglas said in the end, he estimated around 350,000 gallons of water were used to put out the fire.

The Chippewa Fire District, Eagle Point, Elk Mound, Bloomer, Tilden and Township fire departments responded.

The Chippewa Falls Fire Department said the 13 acre site is owned by Steve Pregent of Chippewa Falls who rents the site to Thomas Swoboda who owns Buckboard Logistics Pallet Company of Chippewa Falls. Douglas said he was told the pallet scraps were intended to be ground up and used for a heating boiler unit.

Pregent called in a bulldozer to help push the debris around so that crews could reach all of the hot spots and smoldering debris, but police say that can also affect investigations as evidence is destroyed.

“In this particular fire here, the fact that they brought in heavy equipment to move stuff around makes it a little bit more difficult for us to come in and try and pin point something so we're going to rely heavily on public information to help us solve this,” said Lt. Brian Micolichek with the investigation division of the Chippewa Falls Police Department.

He said investigators believe the fire would not have spontaneously combusted given the situation and the fire was suspicious in nature. He also said it’s likely someone somehow ignited the fire.

"In a situation like this, we're going to check with all of the neighbors, check with anyone else who may have information. We hope that there's anyone out there that saw something that night, heard something or know somebody that heard or saw something," said Micolichek.

If you saw or heard anything suspicious in the area Saturday night, you’re asked to call the Chippewa Falls Police Department Tipline at 715-720-6944.


Multiple fire departments had to be called for a pallet fire in Chippewa Falls and investigators are calling it very suspicious.

Crews say around 11:30 Saturday night, a pallet pile started on fire off business Hwy 29 at Hwy 53. The pile was around 200 by 200 feet and 20 feet high and flames were quickly spreading because of the dry and windy conditions.

Ten trucks had to be called in from area fire departments to put out the fire and around 280,000 gallons of water was used. Traffic was closed for about 3 and a half hours while crews were on scene.

Crews say the cause is very suspicious and an investigation is underway by Chippewa police.
Chippewa Falls Fire and Emergency Services Department along with Chippewa Falls Police officers responded to a large wooden pallet – debris pile fire at 11:36 pm on 09/07/2013 at the southwest corner of US Highway 53 and State Business Highway 29. Responding firefighters found the south end of an approximate 200 foot long by 200 foot wide by 20 foot high pallet debris pile on fire spreading rapidly to the west. A blitz fire attack was immediately started using the top mounted deck guns on both initially responding Chippewa Falls Fire engines. A 4” supply line was laid to a city fire hydrant located north of Business Highway 29. With the wind blowing from the northeast at approximately 15 MPH, the fire continued to spread to the west. Chippewa Falls Public Works responded with one personnel and an end loader that was used to plow through an un-burned section of the pallet pile to create a fire break through the large pile.

With concerns of the extremely dry weather conditions and the possibility of secondary fires igniting both south and west of this location, Mutual Aid from several area Fire Departments was called-in to provide additional water supply to the scene and help extinguish the pallet pile fire. Ten tender/tanker trucks from the following Fire Departments responded to the scene: Chippewa Fire District, Eagle Point Fire Dept., Elk Mound Fire Dept., Bloomer Fire Dept., Tilden Fire Dept., and Township Fire Dept. of Eau Claire.

Business Highway 29 (W. River Street) was closed for approximately 3½ hours to traffic. The 13 acre site is owned by Steve Pregent of Chippewa Falls who rents to site to Thomas Swoboda, owner of Buckboard Logistics Pallet Company of Chippewa Falls. Land owner Pregent called in a bulldozer that was used to break up and spread out the smoldering debris pile. This allowed firefighters to completely have access and extinguish the fire.

Due to the proximity of the nearby Chippewa River, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WI DNR) was contacted and informed of the fire and the approximate 280,000 gallons of water that was used to extinguish the fire. The cause of the fire is very suspicious and an investigation is underway by the Chippewa Falls Police Department.

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